Watered-down UTA reform bill advances

First Published      Last Updated Mar 09 2017 02:41 pm

The House approved Tuesday a watered-down bill that initially had sought to reform how the Utah Transit Authority is governed.

The House voted 74-0 to pass SB174. The Senate previously approved it 27-0, but it must return there for a final vote because of a minor amendment.

Jettisoned from its original version were reforms to reduce the size of the UTA board and revamp how members are appointed — including Senate confirmation. Also dropped were restrictions against the agency entering into partnerships for more transit-oriented developments.

Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, the bill's sponsor, earlier said changes were made to better focus on another provision it contained to create a state task force to study how to coordinate future funding — and possible tax hikes — for transit, highways, airports and other transportation projects.

It also will look at how transportation agencies should best be governed.

Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, the House sponsor of the bill, said that UTA is showing "commitment and dedication to regain public trust." That comes in the wake of audits critical of the agency's high executive pay and extensive travel.

The bill still includes some minor tweaking of UTA, including requiring that its citizens advisory board include at least some riders who use its bus and train services.

It also requires UTA to do a cost-benefit analysis on transit-oriented developments — and make them public.

In such developments, UTA usually uses excess land at rail stations to partner with developers for projects designed to increase transit ridership. But audits have criticized sweetheart deals for some developers, including building large garages for their projects that sat mostly empty for years because of developer delays.